3D Printing Techniques for Wind Turbine Towers
Released on April 12, 2021 by Leandro Soares da Costa, Director at Tupi Energy
3D printing technology, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), has been used in the development of complex components in different industries worldwide. AM methods have advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques. For instance, affordability, rapid prototyping, sturdy and lightweight parts, reduced waste, quality and consistency, fast production, and flexible and complex design.
The following milestones have been achieved using AM processes: the first 3D-printed human embryonic stem cells created at the Heriot-Watt University in 2015 ; the first 3D-printed pedestrian bridge built in Alcobendas, Spain in 2016 ; the first fully completed 3D-printed residential building developed by AMT-SPECAVIA Group in Russia in 2017 ; the world’s first 3D-printed boat propeller (WAAMpeller) developed by a five-company partnership in Rotterdam in 2017 ; and the world’s largest 3D-printed boat (3Dirigo) developed at the University of Maine in 2019 .
Researches and developments have been carried out on 3D printing techniques applied in the fabrication of wind turbine’s towers. These structures are mostly manufactured of conical tubular steel modules, in which challenges related to manufacturing costs and transportation are noticed. However, the use of high-performance concrete has demonstrated the potential to improve the tower’s capabilities (height, stability and resistance). For example, concrete towers have been successfully installed by ACCIONA Windpower in several countries .
Figure 1 – Wind turbine towers made of concrete by ACCIONA Windpower
An innovative and promising project has been developed by a consortium comprising three large companies: COBOD, GE Renewable Energy and LafargeHolcim. As part of this project, a 10-meter-high tower pedestal prototype made of concrete was successfully printed in 2019 . The three partners aim to produce a ready printer and material range to scale up production to commercial level, and increase renewable energy production while lowering the levelized cost of energy.
The use of 3D-printed technology in the fabrication of concrete towers for wind turbines optimises the manufacturing costs and minimises the issues related to the transport of heavy and long sections, since the modules can be fabricated on site. This enables the construction of towers up to 150 to 200 meters tall, hence improving their power generation capacity. For example, a 5 MW turbine at 80 meters, which generates 15.1 GWh annually, can have a 33% of improvement in extra power at 160 meters, generating 20.2 GWh .
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